Captain of sunken B.C. ferry fights to get job back

Queen of the North’s skipper who was fired in wake of 2006 sinking was reinstated by workers compensation board then had his termination upheld by appeal tribunal

The sad saga of the Queen of North isn’t over yet as its captain is continuing to fight for his job, four years after the tragedy and three years after he was originally fired.

The British Columbia ferry went off course on its way from Prince Rupert, B.C., to Vancouver Island in the early hours of March 22, 2006. It hit an island and sunk in deep waters. Two passengers went missing and have been declared dead.

The ferry’s captain, Colin Henthorne, was asleep at the time of the crash, having turned command of the vessel over to his navigating officer, Karl-Heinz Lilgert, and quartermaster Karen Bricker. In 2007, the two crewmembers were fired for not co-operating with the investigation and Henthorne was also fired. Lilger was charged in March 2010 with criminal negligence causing death in relation to the sinking.

Henthorne challenged his firing in January 2008, claiming to the B.C. Workers Compensation Board that he was fired for raising safety issues. The board agreed with him and in February 2009 ordered B.C. Ferries to reinstate him and pay him lost wages.

B.C. Ferries appealed the decision and in March 2010, the appeal tribunal found Henthorne was fired because of the damage to the employment relationship that arose out of the sinking of the Queen of the North and subsequent events during the investigation. The tribunal upheld the firing and ordered Henthorne to repay the lost wages awarded in the earlier decision, totalling $127,233.05.

“We have found the employer terminated the worker’s employment because he was the on-duty master of the ship that sunk,” said the appeal tribunal. “The employer lost confidence in the worker’s suitability due to the employer’s perception that the worker failed to accept ultimate responsibility and accountability as master for the marine accident.”

However, Henthorne wasn’t done yet. He has now filed a petition with the B.C. Supreme Court, arguing B.C. Ferries failed to prove his safety complaints weren’t a factor in the decision to fire him. He claimed the corporation perceived that his raising of safety concerns was a way to avoid responsibility for the sinking.

“If an employee can be fired in circumstances where an employer may be incorrect and unfair in believing that an employee is raising safety concerns to avoid his responsibilities, no employees will raise safety concerns,” Howard Ehrlich, Henthorne’s lawyer, told the Canadian Press.

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